Positional outlook: Special teams

February, 14, 2014
2/14/14
2:25
PM ET
The Redskins' special teams need massive improvements, of which anyone who watched them in 2013 would agree. Their return game stank; their punt coverage horrendous. But on the good side: There was no failed swinging gate fake. Oh wait, there was a botched fake attempt in Minnesota. One hope among players is that new special-teams coach Ben Kotwica's military background will instill a discipline they felt was lacking a year ago. While Keith Burns took the blame as the coach last season, the organization did a poor job of supplying him with players. Too many were either young and felt perhaps too entitled to be part of this unit or aging and had no passion for it. Whatever it was, it added up to a disaster and that must change in 2014. With so many close games, you can't be awful in one area.

Long-snapper Nick Sundberg
He missed most of last season with a torn meniscus in his right knee, but when healthy he’s an excellent snapper (which means a consistent one). He gets the ball back quickly and on target and has done a nice job since entering the NFL.
2014: Long-snapper
Contract status: Signed through 2015

Long-snapper Kyle Nelson
Filled in just fine for Sundberg. With a new special-teams coach, and head coach, nothing is guaranteed for Sundberg. Nelson made one big mistake with a botched snap to punter Sav Rocca that led to a deflected punt in a loss to the New York Giants.
2014: Elsewhere
Contract status: Signed through 2014

Punter Sav Rocca
The knock on Rocca throughout his career is that he’s too inconsistent and that was as true in 2013 as ever. Rocca had some games where he’d have four good punts followed by an untimely shank late in the game -- too often from his own territory. He averaged 41.8 yards per kick on punts from inside his own 20-yard line. He also averaged 40.1 yards per punt in the fourth quarter, his worst mark for any quarter. And his 42.0 yards per punt average was tied for the worst mark of his career while his 33.8 yard net average was his worst. (Obviously the coverage has a lot to do with that as well.) Rocca turns 41 in November; it’s time for a more consistent and younger leg. (Should mention that they signed another punter, Robert Malone, to a future's contract after the season).
2014: Elsewhere
Contract status: Signed through 2014

Kicker Kai Forbath
He’s made 35 of 40 field goals in his two seasons with Washington and therefore warrants holding onto the job entering next season. Forbath made his last 14 kicks of 2013, which I did not realize until checking the stats because, well, they didn’t make a difference as the Redskins were 3-13 and only one of those kicks helped win a game (against San Diego). He needs to improve his kickoffs; Forbath had 14 touchbacks while the league average per team was 41. But the Redskins were 10th at defending kickoffs so his inability to consistently get touchbacks didn’t hurt that much.
2014: Kicker
Contract status: Signed through 2014

KR Niles Paul
He was better than Josh Morgan, but Paul is not an explosive returner. Paul runs straight ahead, but in 34 career returns he’s averaging just 20.9 yards per return. Paul is fine as an upback/blocker and does well in coverage. He’s not a budding Pro Bowler -- not yet. But he does care about playing special teams and realizes this is where he makes his money.
2014: Gunner/blocker
Contract status: Signed through 2014

PR Richard Crawford
Never played after tearing multiple ligaments in the preseason. Crawford did an excellent job in 2012 returning punts (I liked him that preseason as well) and typically made the first defender miss. He’s patient and has quick feet. But after his injury, who knows where he’ll be. It’s hard to say and if I’m the Redskins I’d want to know I’m protected at this spot.
2014: Bubble (depends on knee)
Contract status: Signed through 2015

KR Chris Thompson
He didn’t show anything as a kick returner during the regular season and had to get used to defenders who he couldn’t dust with his speed. Thompson learned how to field punts last summer and perhaps after an offseason devoted to this he could improve. But he has a lot to prove.
2014: Bubble
Contract status: Signed through 2016

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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